Haa K̲usteeyí, Part II

In my recent blog post, Haa K̲usteeyí, I shared a personal perspective on Tlingit belief in regard to the nature of time, and how every Tlingit life is intertwined in a continuum. In that post I suggested that readers give some continued thought on the nature of Haa K̲usteeyí.

I took my own advice. I continued to think on Haa K̲usteeyí and its implications.

Recently I observed two young men, both “¼ Tlingit”, discussing how they felt Tlingit, felt Tlingit blood in their veins, only to have had their statement disregarded by other Tlingit. Their sense of being Tlingit was disregarded because of their relatively light skin or eye color. As a half-breed (a label I was familiar with when I was younger) I find myself in a wonderful position to have some measure of empathy for how they feel.

Consider how insignificant the exact blood quantum of an individual is when they belong to a continuum that reaches back 10,000 years and extends far into the future. Haa K̲usteeyí. Tlingit is Tlingit. Modifiers are not needed.

I think of a 60 year old Tlingit man I admire greatly. He stated that if his entire body represented all of the knowledge that a Tlingit man should have, his own slice of this knowledge would fit under a single fingernail. Although he is a powerful and brilliant man, carries Tlingit names of high esteem from his clan, speaks Tlingit and knows his clan’s songs, he is entirely humble. He feels himself a part of Haa K̲usteeyí, and this truth strips him of any possibility of being arrogant. As a Tlingit gentleman, he is humble.

Then I read a response on social media by a Tlingit man who loudly proclaims how important he is, how knowledgeable and traditional he is, and then he challenges a Tlingit living outside of Haa Aani, stating that since she lives outside of the Tlingit homeland her concerns were invalid and unworthy of consideration. As a 3rd party to that discussion, all I can do is pray that he truly humble himself to the fact that there is no such thing as a man more important than Haa K̲usteeyí.

Most of my thoughts on philosophy or spirituality fail to lead to conclusions, and it’s true here. What I am left with are things that I will personally be mindful of;

-I must be mindful that I treat every Tlingit with the same respect, regardless of their level of cultural knowledge or that peculiar Western concept “Blood Quantum” or “Degree of Native Blood”.

-All of my life I have heard declarative statements that begin with “Well I’m 100% Tlingit, and…” It is the clear  that because their blood quantum is higher than mine they were asserting that they were speaking from an unassailable position of authority. I will be mindful of how it felt to me to be so casually disregarded due to being “less Tlingit”, and that I must NEVER make anyone feel like that.

Surly there is someone out there who is “1/16th Tlingit” who feels his or her blood calling to them, even though there is little of the Tlingit physical archetype in their appearance. Inside, they feel their Tlingit soul. They feel Haa K̲usteeyí.

I think that the Tlingit are feeling an increased pull back to their culture. I know a fraction of what my 60 year old friend knows, but I will seek knowledge. More importantly, I will share what I know. Let me be a bridge rather than a road block.


9 thoughts on “Haa K̲usteeyí, Part II

  1. I like your concept of who we are and where we come from….I can see and feel your decisions from the time. I can remember what I was told; that I was a girl….it is you that carries the gift. My father told us we must remain pure…by saying that he meant he wanted us to keep our bloodlines at 100% as we grew older he would emphasise…always keep your blood pure with our blood ….he told us being someone we are not is good…stay in your culture stay and live off our land…if you have the land, sea and air we will never be without. My father was a proud and humble man filled with responsibility to his clan house and brothers and sisters most of all to his children and grand children.
    Crazy how we grew up…my dad never wanted us to leave him or my mother to go to boarding school so he made sure he was on school board…he applied for grants and the school grew as we grew up….first elementary school then middle school …then a high school we never had to leave home to get educated. My father remained on school board to his last breathe. We grew up Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood….children we were cannery row kids…school officials took away our language and way of life… we became people of the clock 🙂 (I call it that) we are people of the seasons and tides….our internal clock gets blasted.
    things like food changed over time …I remember not knowing how to cook simple things like hamburger or steaks and my dads words ringing in my ear cook like deer meat sweetheart …as my brain clicked in I had to chuckle ….what the heck 🙂 they are just like us 🙂
    My thoughts go on and on …thanks Mike I think your writing are good they trigger thoughts and memories from my time…I just turned 66 and oh my God….I wonder why did you spare me?

    • You provide something that I value greatly, a fresh perspective. Your words give me pause for thought, and a regret that I didn’t get to learn from your father too.

  2. Mike, your philosophical questions are always thought provoking. You encourage us to examine not only our world, but ourselves also. Now, here is my thoughts on the whole lineage concept. Being Tlingit is so much more than blood. It is also culture, heritage, lineage… and also family. I am not Tlingit by blood, but by adoption with the approval of the elders; and nobody can take that away from me or my family. Here is a question for you. Which is more beneficial to the Tlingit people: 1) full blood Tlingit that does not care about his culture or heritage, or 2) a 1/8th Cherokee adopted into a Tlingit clan that values the heritage and culture that he is now a part of? I know what my answer is…

    • Art, I’ve come to the conclusion that my dad, who is Dliet Kaa (spelling?) has developed a very Tlinget soul. He lives every day according to some very Tlingit ideals. As to relative value, I have chosen to yield that field of battle to others.I will simply value my brothers and sisters.

  3. Mike I appreciate this conversation or view point as I was born and will always be a “half breed”. I believe my percentage of blood quantum should not matter, but to many it does. I have learned many things about our Lingit culture, mostly in the arts, but my over all knowledge is a small fraction so each year I strive to learn more and become more involved.
    Thanks again for putting this message out there.

    • Thank you. The more I learn the more humble I become as begin to appreciate how complex, layered and nuanced the culture (and its classic art) is.

      The only thing I can truly control is myself, and I will simply try harder and try to be as open minded as I can.

  4. This was beautifully put. I grew up in Sitka and felt all of it flow through my bones as a child when I walked through the park, on the beach, everywhere. I left home displaced in my blood quantum and displaced because I was not taught about our language and culture, our family. I was told there was no one to tell me. Being shut out began somewhere before I was born. Before my father was born. It is strange to me how we can use western rules to hurt each other and ourselves. Why not have more Tlingits regardless of how much the federal government tells us we have a right to be. We could be strong together.

  5. Thank you I am 1/16 Tlingit, and I heard more than once in my childhood that you’re a white man’s daughter I felt like the white people who called me halfbreed didn’t want me and my Native American side of my family who thought I was a white man’s daughter didn’t want me either. It wasn’t until my uncles started taking me to the ANB Hall for everything from funerals to holiday festivities that I begin to build memories and feel like I found my home I loved herring eggs boiled fish heads with potatoes and soapberries just as much as the rest of my family salmon was our staple dry fish and seaweed were our trail mix Youngtree sprouts were our candy it was the best part of my childhood being raised in the village. I used to watch my grandmother do her bead working and tried to follow along the best I could for a five-year-old, my aunts and uncles and my grandma treated me with love but neighbors and friends used to scowl at me and snubbed me at events and instilled in me a sense of insecurity that I was less then they were that I didn’t belong and I had no place there. I learned as an adult and then as a mother that I would never ever let my children feel like they weren’t enough needed to count I made sure that they were registered with BIA I made sure that STA took them on their role and I made sure that they knew their grandmother and aunts and uncles through memories of mine after they were gone. My daughters know they are alaskan native clean-cut and they are proud of it they were there moccasins and their bracelets and earrings with pride and they still do today they love hearing eggs and seaweed and fish as much as I do they love berries they love Indian chop Suey and they love hearing all the memories of my childhood. But it saddens them when they hear of the struggles that I felt to fit in to my culture. So I would just like to add that I’m glad that you are aware of the effects that words can hurt past the skin and that they do linger for a lifetime we are all the one and I believe if we all came together, treated each other equally what a force we would be and what prideful people we would all be less the quality of the native blood in us on or not . Thank you for posting this and thank you for your blogs they give me a sense of belonging and bring back fond memories of my childhood in the village as well as reminders of how to treat people regardless regardless of their quality and quantity of Native Blood that courses through their veins and into their heart.

    • Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and perspective. You express yourself with eloquence. If you want to offer a guest post let me know.

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